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Pakistan Unmoved by Joint Patrol Idea

Asia: Officials note that archrival India had floated the plan for Kashmir before, to no avail. U.S. envoy is to arrive today for talks.

June 06, 2002|TYLER MARSHALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The government of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf reacted coolly Wednesday to an Indian proposal for joint patrols of soldiers to monitor the cease-fire line in the disputed Kashmir region.

"Given the level of mistrust that exists [between India and Pakistan], this proposal doesn't seem to be workable," Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Aziz Ahmed Khan said in an interview. But Information Minister Nisar Memon later said that the comments did not constitute an outright rejection of the idea.

"If they are serious about it, they should make a formal presentation to Pakistan," he said.

Pakistan's reaction to the latest diplomatic proposal, offered early in the day by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, marked just one of several developments that kept the two nuclear-armed adversaries disturbingly close to armed conflict.

As part of international efforts to defuse the crisis and avert war, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage is due to arrive here today for urgent meetings with Pakistani leaders before departing for talks in New Delhi with Indian officials.

Khan said the idea of joint patrols had been suggested previously by New Delhi for areas along the India-Pakistan border outside Kashmir, but it had failed because of differences over how the patrols should be conducted.

Pakistani officials also questioned Vajpayee's sincerity for airing the suggestion before approaching them with the idea through diplomatic channels.

"If India was serious about this, why float it through the press first?" Khan asked.

Vajpayee offered the idea at a news conference after the final session of an Asian security summit in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan. The initiative came after India had repeatedly turned down Pakistan's call for international monitors on grounds that Kashmir was an issue involving only the two nations.

Although Vajpayee and Musharraf attended the Almaty gathering of 16 Asian leaders, efforts by Russian President Vladimir V. Putin to bring them together for a face-to-face meeting failed. Instead, the two spent much of their time painfully avoiding even eye contact.

In Washington, President Bush spoke by telephone with Vajpayee and Musharraf, urging them in separate calls to take steps to reduce the risk of war.

"The president reiterated to President Musharraf that the United States expects Pakistan to live up to the commitment Pakistan has made to end all support for terrorism," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said.

In the call to the Indian leader, Fleischer said, Bush emphasized "the need for India to respond with de-escalatory steps."

In Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, the government on Wednesday ordered the expulsion of a low-level Indian diplomat five days after he was allegedly observed receiving sensitive documents from a Pakistani national.

Authorities in the Pakistani-held portion of Kashmir said Indian artillery shelling across the Line of Control was less intense than on Tuesday. Two Pakistanis were killed and nine others wounded near the town of Chikothi, a few miles from the frontier. Officials in the Indian-held city of Jammu reported intermittent firing into the predawn hours Wednesday.

Indian officials also said that their forces operating in Indian-ruled territory about 150 miles northwest of Jammu killed six suspected militants allegedly belonging to the Pakistan-based Islamic extremist group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The crisis that has brought India and Pakistan close to war was triggered by a series of attacks in India by armed Muslim extremists. India says that the incursions have been carried out by militants who trained in Pakistani camps and crossed into India-controlled territory with the help of Pakistani armed forces.

Musharraf counters that such infiltration from Pakistan was stopped in the aftermath of an armed assault in December on India's Parliament in New Delhi, which left 14 people dead, including five gunmen. He and other Pakistani officials argue that the recent terrorist attacks were carried out by local pro-independence Kashmiris trying to loosen New Delhi's grip on their land.

Armed conflict between the two nations seemed perilously close last month after an attack on an Indian military facility in Jammu left 34 dead.

Speaking in the Indian city of Bangalore on Wednesday, Defense Minister George Fernandes said that there had been little change in the level of infiltration of militants from Pakistan into Indian-controlled Kashmir in recent weeks.

"Whatever information so far coming [in] doesn't indicate there has been any substantial or noticeable reduction in infiltration," Fernandes told a group of reporters.

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